Monday I saw for the first time an F-18 being thrown into the air by a steam catapult. It was awesome and terrible in all the meanings of those two words, and a tremendous physical rush. The noise, just 20 yards away, is not a sound but a world, and the intricate dance of three sailors preparing the plane by attaching a restraining device meant to break at 50,000 pounds of force, choreographed by three other sailors hand-signaling to each other, the pilot, and the men 6 feet from the live engines, is other worldly. And it's fast. The second time I decided that my view would be slightly obstructed by another person and took two steps — the plane was just gone. But visually, the actual takeoff was a little bit disappointing. I thought of Paul Goodman's untitled poem:
Our spacemen roving on the moon
(0n the TV screen) are like old pictures
of spacemen roving on the moon,
and this fact is more startling
than spacemen roving on the moon,
our imagination is successful
yet coping with reality
we cannot do it differently.
Sure, my dreams have been in touch
with the nature of things,
both my poems and my nightmares
predict and guide me well.
But what when now I am confused?
ever alters the human course
to do it differently.
And the difference now is that our imaginations are now trained (jaded?) by the imaginations of skilled CGI and special effects workers on a thousand films and TV shows. The first time, it looked slow compared to what we see in those imagined worlds. The second time, when an 18 meter, 30,000 kg construct carrying two living men just disappeared while I took two quick steps, shook me almost as much as the engine noise.
I'm not sure what I think about it. But Goodman's poem, which depends on awkward inversions we'd deplore in a metrical poem, has haunted me ever since.